Profiles in Green: The Role of Communication in Worldwide Corporate Environmental Management
Heger, Kyle, Communication World
Chevron Corp., headquartered in San Francisco, Calif., is training 3,000 executives and managers in the art and science of environmental management- government regulations, personal liabilities and the philosophy of risk management. The president of Dow Canada, Sarnia, Ont., through an annual "Environmental Care Award" offers prizes to employees who have helped protect the environment. Impala Platinum, a division of Genmin, Johannesburg, South Africa, has sponsored a contest asking grade school students to draw pictures showing how cars cause pollution.
These are just a few of the communication programs that businesses around the world are undertaking as environmental management moves to the top of the corporate priority pile.
Of course not all these efforts are communication activities. Often accused of "greenwashing"- talking about the environment, rather than actually rolling up its sleeves and protecting it - the corporate world can now point to a host of environmental protection activities.
Here are a few examples:
* Wildlife preservation
Santee Cooper, a state-owned electric utility company headquartered in Moncks Comer, has constructed 200 predator-resistant nesting boxes to help the embattled South Carolina wood duck.
* Habitat protection
After finishing operations at a Brazilian bauxite mine, Alcan Aluminium Ltd., headquartered in Montreal, replaces top soil and reforests the site with native trees.
Konica Corp., Tokyo, markets a recyclable camera, the single-use "Film-In." Konica U.S.A. Inc. pays photofinishers five cents for each camera they return, then recycles its plastic and cardboard parts. Konica Canada Inc. offers photofinishers a choice: At the end of each year they can either receive a credit for each camera they returned, or donate this credit to environmental groups of their choice.
* Pollution control
Gengold, another division of South Africa's Genmin, created a patented gold-extraction process called "Biox," in which gold is extracted from refractory ores by the use of bacteria, instead of by a roasting process that causes major pollution problems.
The chairman of BankAmerica, headquartered in San Francisco, recently announced that his bank will take up to U.S. $6 million in debts owed by Latin American countries and give them to World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International and Smithsonian Institution so they can help preserve rain forests in Mexico, Central America and South America.
What has led to this flurry of activity? Our review of these, and other major corporations worldwide, reveals that the trend is fueled by a mixture of environmental conscience and business savvy.
In a 1991 report on the environment, Konica states: "The stakes are too high for us to ignore conservation of resources, recycling of raw materials, maintaining the health of the ecosphere: These are issues that take their place along with quality, safety, and cost/performance in the design and manufacture of Konica products."
What exactly are these stakes?John Rainey, chairman of the board at Santee Cooper, sums them up: "They are no less than the habitability of our world and the survival of our species."
To some extent, the corporate sector seems to have internalized the value which the larger society places on environmental protection. Polls at Chevron, says Robert D. Harrer, coordinator of strategic environmental programs, reveal that employees' opinions on the environment generally mirror those of the general public.
But, corporate environmentalism is also reactive, a response to pressure from outside sources, such as activist agitation and government regulations.
Referring to growing regulations on water pollution, Fred Dawkins, editor of Newsline, a publication of Fletcher Challenge Canada, Vancouver, B.C., a forest products company owned by Fletcher Challenge Ltd. of New Zealand, says: "We've tried to keep ahead of the issue, not waiting for government to back us to the wall. But the goal post keeps moving faster than we can keep up."
Over at Dow Canada, Sarnia, Ont., Darlene MacKinnon, communication specialist, speaking of the increase in environmental activities at her company, says: "Public opinion has had a definite influence as we move into the 1990s."
She says that in her company's case, some of this increased activity can be traced back to particular triggering events, such as a 1985 spill at the company's Sarnia Division plant, when dry-cleaning solvents made it to the St. Claire River, generating public concern. "It was no longer good enough to do environmental improvement pr|jects as part of behind-the-doors business as usual," says MacKinnon. "The public demanded that we become more proactive in communicating about what we were doing to solve problems."
To see environmental management, however, only as a reflection of corporate conscience or corporate conflict is to miss an important aspect of the issue. Some corporations find that by going for the green, they also benefit the bottom line.
Polls show that 88 percent of Chevron's shareholders say that applying good environmental protection principles is good for business, according to Bob Harrer.
At Alcan, Jean Minville, vice president, environment, said in a 1990 company publication: "The fact is, aluminum can be recovered from recycled products using only five per cent of the energy it takes to make these products in the first place. And we calculate that the [U.S.] $50 million recycling plant which we just built in the United States (at Berea, Ky.) cost us about one-tenth of what a comparable new smelter would."
As environmental management becomes a top priority for corporate decision makers, environmental communication is also growing in importance.
This includes both the input and output functions of communication
* input supplying corporate decision makers with a steady stream of environmental information, and output allowing them to meet corporate objectives by interacting with various audiences.
The first step in environmental communication: helping management make decisions
As zealous converts to the green cause, businesses are hard at work baptizing themselves with soul-searching corporate audits, and confessing to environmental transgressions.
Some audits are technical in nature, focusing on the issue of compliance with government regulations. For instance, Chevron, rather than waiting for government inspectors to find problems, established a program of aggressive self-reviews, conducting more than 200 compliance audits.
But audits also can address broader issues. Fletcher Challenge Ltd. has recently completed an environmental audit of its corporate office complex in Auckland, studying air conditioning, energy use, waste disposal, impacts on individuals and impacts on the environment. Corporate Affairs Manager Bruce Wallace says the company received favorable marks in this audit and is now planning ways to further improve its environmental performance based on the study's results.
Some companies are taking this audit approach even further, looking beyond their own operations to the environmental impacts of other companies with which they do business. BankAmerica recently hired Green Cross, a certification group, to review the origins of products and supplies it purchases. For instance, Green Cross is checking to make sure that suppliers are not trying to sell BankAmerica furniture made from rapidly disappearing tropical rainforest hardwoods.
Companies are also actively soliciting input from their employees on environmental management.
BankAmerica conducted a Green Ideas in Action campaign offering money to employees who come up with useful environmental tips. And at Santee Cooper, there is a new company policy allowing employees to report environmental concerns ... anonymously, if they wish.
Another way that companies keep informed about issues that affect their environmental decisions is through the use of public opinion surveys. Chevron monitors public opinion in various marketing regions through polls, and has discovered that it rates consistently high when respondents are asked which oil company they would trust most to conduct sensitive environmental projects.
Dow Canada has taken this marketing approach to environmental communication and decision making a step further. In 1991, to find out how the public feels about the company, the chemical industry and the environment, consultants helped Dow Canada conduct focus groups, consisting of community members, Dow employees and high school students. Results aren't in yet, but when they are, Dow Canada will compare them with results of similar studies done in 1986.
Advisory groups are another source of information for corporate environmental decision makers. In an attempt to mitigate erosion damage caused by sustained high water levels at Quebec's Lake Saint-Jean since Alcan began using the lake as reservoir, the company launched a three-year environmental impact study and public consultation process in 1981. A shoreline stabilization program was presented to the provincial government in 1984, and refined in a series of public hearings.
Though the rehabilitation project is now underway, Alcan is still seeking public consultation on the project, actively inviting input from lakeside residents and their associations. A March 1991 survey shows that 72 percent of home owners on whose shorelines work was done are satisfied.
Most plants belonging to The Dow Chemical Company, Midland, Mich., have community advisory panels whose focus includes environmental issues. In 1991, Dow formed a Corporate Environmental Advisory Council to advise the company on global environmental issues. Its members include a former administrator at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a former New York Times environmental reporter and the president of an environmental research organization.
The second step in environment communication: helping management meet its objectives.
Corporate environmental communication can be divided into two general categories: communication to benefit the environment and communication to benefit the corporation.
One example of the former is Santee Cooper's "Lights Out! Sea Turtles Dig the Dark" public awareness campaign to protect the threatened loggerhead turtle. Because artificial lights confuse loggerhead hatchlings, luring them away from the sea and making them vulnerable to cars and predators, the utility company has worked with Georgetown County, South Carolina to install shades on public street lights along the beach. It asks beach-front residents to turn off lights after 10 p.m.
Corporations are also encouraging the general public to become environmentally active through educational programs. Santee Cooper offers an environmental scholarship for college students majoring in environmental areas, an internship program emphasizing air quality assessment and other environmental issues, and an environmental essay contest for seventh graders. In the first year of this contest, 1991, 25 percent of the state's seventh graders participated.
Corporations employ a variety of means to capitalize on their environmental good works, and to build their reputations with various stakeholders.
Clay Allen, communication specialist for Dow, says, "We've always tried to do the right thing for the environment. But we've only recently realized that the public wants us to let them know what welre doing. Dow has spent more than U.S. $75 million on internal and external communication programs."
Dow and Santee Cooper have each released annual reports which focused on environmental issues. Dow Canada, Chevron and Konica have all released special environmental reports on their companies.
Companies are also encouraging their employees to speak up about their companies' environmental records. In 1991, Dow launched The Ambassador, a periodical encouraging employees to become familiar with Dow's positions on various environmental, health and safety issues so they can become "ambassadors" for the company.
And, of course, corporations are also keeping the news media informed of their environmental achievements. For instance, Dow Canada conducts "Media FYI Sessions," two-hour-long quarterly meetings to discuss performance, give project updates, take media representatives on plant tours and allow them to speak with employees.
Corporations build partnerships
Corporate environmental communication reaches one of its highest levels, or at least one of the most difficult to master, in the form of the two-way communication function: negotiating and building partnerships with various groups.
Sometimes this new willingness to partner-up to meet corporate objectives leads to unusual combinations.
BankAmerica Corp. is leading an effort among other banks to raise credit for starting Marine Spill Response Corp., a nonprofit organization owned indirectly by a coalition of major oil companies to clean up oil spills.
Some partnerships are industry-wide, such as the Responsible Care program in which Dow participates. Through this program, chemical companies in the U.S., Canada, Australia and several European countries are obligated to follow principles and codes of management practice: community awareness and emergency response, pollution prevention, process safety, distribution, employee health and safety and product stewardship.
Partnerships also take the form of meetings between various interest groups. Dow Canada's CEO participates in New Directions, a roundtable/think tank of Canadian environmental groups and business leaders, and Chevron's CEO serves on the U.S. President's Commission on Environmental Quality. (See page 25.)
Partnership can mean working with environmental groups on specific projects, such as Dow's work with The Nature Conservancy and other groups in its "Partnership for Wetlands Conservation." (See page 26.)
Some attempts at building partnerships are more successful than others.
Fletcher Challenge Canada had a go at consensus building recently when it sought to open logging in the Walbran Valley on Vancouver Island. But so far the only happy ending for the company in this story proved to be a false start.
The company has logging rights to 6,500 hectares in the valley. Several years ago, as part of the public review process required before embarking on what it hoped would be a 50-year stretch of logging in the valley, the company began a communication program to explain its plans, invite public input and point out the importance of the valley to the economy of the region.
Advertising in Victoria newspapers, the company arranged bus tours of the area, showing more than 600 visitors which areas would be logged and which would be protected, inviting guests to make written or oral comments, and responding to these. Four hundred surveys were turned in.
The company also formed an advisor' committee with representatives from environmental groups, a union, government and the Nuu Chah Nulth Tribal Council. Dawkins says Fletcher Challenge Canada ended up revising some of its original plans based on this input. After finally having reached what it hoped was a consensus, the company received permission to log on 77 hectares. But when it began to bulldoze a road in the valley in 1990, the company was greeted by protesters lying down in front of trucks, chaining themselves to bulldozers and camping out in trees.
"Suddenly, we had a crisis," says Dawkins. The provincial government recently declared an 18-month moratorium on logging in specific disputed areas. Dawkins says it's discouraging to see the company's attempts at proactive communication and consensus-building thwarted at the last minute-He wonders whether, once the company comes to another agreement with the various interested parties, it will be greeted again by protests.
Fortunately, many partnerships have happy endings, such as the one that resulted in the Tasman Accord, a landmark agreement recently reached by environmental groups and Fletcher Challenge Canada's sister company, Tasman Forestry of New Zealand.
Wallace, from Fletcher Challenge's corporate headquarters, says that although Tasman Forestry was already safeguarding blocks of trees and allowing public access to some areas, plans to clear certain blocks of timber were greeted with protest by some environmentalists in the late 1980s.
Over a year's time, Tasman Forestry Ltd. held a series of meetings with the New Zealand Department of Conservation and The Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, which represented the interests of several fellow environmental groups. A staff person from the society conducted a conservation audit of all the company's estates. Eventually, the parties came to an agreement including the following provisions:
* 38,599 hectares of Tasman Forest's freehold forest estate were legally covenanted to protect their reserve status,
* Tasman Forestry ended the clearance of most native trees,
* Tasman Forestry granted N.Z. $150,000 for a three-year research and management project to help protect an endangered bird - the kokako.
Wallace says Fletcher Challenge is satisfied with the accord. He says the accord helped Tasman Forestry achieve a positive relationship with the environmentalist community, which might otherwise have been highly critical of its operations. Also, the company can now credibly market its New Zealand radiata pine as environmentally benign because it is a sustainable harvest which replaces the harvest of native trees.
In fact, the partnership was such a success that in 1990, the accord partners announced a variety of other joint conservation projects to mark New Zealand's sesquicentennial year. These include:
* Building a bridge to provide access to native forests,
* Underwriting a book on the national history of the Rotorua region,
* Erecting a commemorative plaque at an historic fortress in association with the local Ngati Tuwharetoa people.
Developing a new attitude
Clearly, corporate decision makers have taken environmental management to heart, and, just as clearly, communication is key to managing this issue: helping gather information, implementing environmental protection programs, turning good works into good media opportunities, building partnerships with various publics. But perhaps the most important part communication can play in the greening of the corporate world is in the development of a new attitude on the part of business, an attitude that, in the words of Kenneth T. Derr, chairman of the board and CEO of Chevron, emphasizes "compromise, cooperation, and positive action on environmental problems."
In a recent speech given at an annual meeting of the Air and Waste Management Association, Derr summed up the importance of this new attitude: "As much as any contribution from technology ... as much as any action of government ... I expect this new attitude in industry to drive environmental improvements in the next decade."
Kyle Heger is associate editor, Communication World.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Profiles in Green: The Role of Communication in Worldwide Corporate Environmental Management. Contributors: Heger, Kyle - Author. Magazine title: Communication World. Volume: 9. Issue: 5 Publication date: April 1992. Page number: 15+. © 2009 International Association of Business Communicators. COPYRIGHT 1992 Gale Group.